Kisha Bari was taking pictures of Rockaway residents in a public housing unit when she was overwhelmed by the smell of mold in ground-floor apartments.
“Residents still live there,” she said, referring to locals yet to receive disaster assistance, months after Sandy.
Bari, 32, is a professional photographer documenting the ongoing recovery effort in the Rockaways in a bid to raise awareness about those who still need help. Her blog caught the attention of Sandy Storyline, one of several local groups that turned to crowdsourcing storm stories – including soliciting photos and videos – by harnessing social media and emerging online platforms.
Sandy Storyline, which has amassed about 200 stories, is slated to be featured in a new interactive program at the Tribeca Film Festival called Storyscapes. Still, other efforts to crowdsource stories of Sandy have proved less successful, underscoring the challenges of collecting digital content in the aftermath of a disaster.
A Focus on Rebuilding
Sandy Storyline, a collaboration of the MIT Center for Civic Media and Housing is a Human Right, is using a new storytelling platform called Cowbird to gather text, audio and photos about Sandy.
“We’re shifting away from the immediate impact of the storm to the storytelling of rebuilding efforts,” said Rachel Falcone, 28, one of the site’s executive producers.
Falcone noted most stories are now coming from the hard-hit Rockaways. About half the material is generated by amateur contributors, while media professionals who are documenting the recovery, such as Bari, provide the remaining content.
“We continue to get interest from people,” said Falcone. “But we also reach out to those who might not know of our project otherwise.”
A Focus on People
Just as Falcone reached out to Bari, Bari is informing Rockaway residents of the opportunity to share their stories on Storyline.
“The poorer communities in Far Rockaway are being neglected,” Bari said. “This raises awareness. It adds a human element to the situation. Mainstream media covers disaster, but our focus is on people.”
The Brooklyn Historical Society also turned to crowdsourcing in the days following Sandy, using Storify, a curated social media site that launched in 2011. However, contributions – primarily pictures of downed trees – tapered off within the first month.
“Storify was more for dragnetting stories instead of being a storytelling platform,” said Jacob Nadal, the Society’s director of Library and Archives.
Nadal, 36, has shifted his attention away from expanding the site. He’s instead turned to collecting material from groups involved in the ongoing recovery in Red Hook, such as the Association of Personal Historians, which is working on an oral history project.
Still, he plans to update the Storify site about once a month, and eventually develop an online exhibit, complete with an interactive map, to mark the one-year anniversary of the storm.
After Sandy, Film Annex, an online distribution company that features short movies from up-and-coming filmmakers, began collecting storm-related videos to incorporate into a documentary. However, a shortage of submissions altered that plan.
“We are currently sticking with the short film we have and hope to build on it in the future,” said Eren Gulfidan, 27, the company’s creative director.
Dan Brown, a long-time Rockaway resident, is filming his own documentary about the area’s recovery to ensure that his community, and its continued vulnerability to storms, won’t be forgotten. He plans to offer his full-length film, called “John Cori Warned You!,” to Storyline.
“Places on Long Island and in New Jersey are already rebuilding, and we are still in the cleanup process,” said Brown, 49. “Not enough is being done. We’re just whistling in a graveyard right now.”
Check out the audio clip below from Sandy Storyline, in which Joseph Finn of Staten Island talks about rebuilding after the storm. (Audio by Meg Cramer)